I was a little bit slumpy in September, so I haven’t updated you on my reading in awhile, but I have read eight books since my last update and found my new favourite book of the year!
Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse
Celeste, a card sharp with a penchant for trouble, takes on the role of advocatus diaboli, to defend her sister Mariel, accused of murdering a Virtue, a member of the ruling class in the mining town of Goetia, in a new world of dark fantasy.
High in the remote mountains, the town of Goetia is booming as prospectors from near and far come to mine the powerful new element Divinity. Divinity is the remains of the body of the rebel Abaddon, who fell to earth during Heaven’s War, and it powers the world’s most inventive and innovative technologies, ushering in a new age of progress. However, only the descendants of those that rebelled, called Fallen, possess the ability to see the rich lodes of the precious element. That makes them a necessary evil among the good and righteous people called the Elect, and Goetia a town segregated by ancestry and class.
Celeste and Mariel are two Fallen sisters, bound by blood but raised in separate worlds. Celeste grew up with her father, passing in privileged Elect society, while Mariel stayed with their mother in the Fallen slums of Goetia. Upon her father’s death, Celeste returns to Goetia and reunites with Mariel. Mariel is a great beauty with an angelic voice, and Celeste, wracked by guilt for leaving her sister behind, becomes her fiercest protector.
When Mariel is accused of murdering a Virtue, the powerful Order of the Archangels that rule Goetia, Celeste must take on the role of Advocatus Diaboli (Devil’s Advocate) and defend her sister in the secretive courts of the Virtue. Celeste, aided by her ex-lover, Abraxas, who was once one of the rebels great generals, sets out to prove Mariel innocent. But powerful forces among the Virtues and the Elect mining barons don’t want Celeste prying into their business, and Mariel has secrets of her own. As Celeste is drawn deeper into the dark side of Goetia, she unravel a layer of lies and manipulation that may doom Mariel and puts her own immortal soul at risk, in this dark fantasy noir from the bestselling mastermind Rebecca Roanhorse.
I received an ARC of Tread of Angels from Simon and Schuster Canada and I am so grateful. This was my first book from Rebecca Roanhorse and it has me even more excited to get to her backlist.
I am in of the author’s ability to create such a well throughout and visual world in only 208 pages. I think it could be argued that there is too much to unpack in so few pages, but I thought she achieved what she set out to do. That said, I sincerely hope Roanhorse writes more in this world because there is so much potential here!
I found Celeste to be a complicated character and living in her head was both riveting and confusing. You might think that this is more of a romance than it ends up being, so don’t let that fool you as you are reading! It is ultimately a story about sisters and the lengths that we will go to protect our family. There are also angels and demons and everyone is complicated and you never know who to trust. It also feels like a Western in many ways.
I will say that I have mixed feelings about the ending because it doesn’t feel true to the rest of the story, but I will say no more to avoid spoilers.
I recommend Tread of Angels if you are a fan of shorter fantasy novels, murder mysteries, and complex familial relationships. I think this was a good introduction to Rebecca Roanhorse’s writing and I am praying we get a sequel!
Love in the Time of Serial Killers by Alicia Thompson
Turns out that reading nothing but true crime isn’t exactly conducive to modern dating—and one woman is going to have to learn how to give love a chance when she’s used to suspecting the worst.
PhD candidate Phoebe Walsh has always been obsessed with true crime. She’s even analyzing the genre in her dissertation—if she can manage to finish writing it. It’s hard to find the time while she spends the summer in Florida, cleaning out her childhood home, dealing with her obnoxiously good-natured younger brother, and grappling with the complicated feelings of mourning a father she hadn’t had a relationship with for years.
It doesn’t help that she’s low-key convinced that her new neighbor, Sam Dennings, is a serial killer (he may dress business casual by day, but at night he’s clearly up to something). It’s not long before Phoebe realizes that Sam might be something much scarier—a genuinely nice guy who can pierce her armor to reach her vulnerable heart.
Despite its mixed reviews, I had so much fun with Love in the Time of Serial Killers. I think the cover and title sets a certain expectation of what this book is going to be but then it doesn’t deliver. This is NOT creepy, scary, spooky, etc. in any way. It is a straight-up contemporary romance where the main character just happens to be writing a dissertation on true crime so that makes her a little bit more paranoid than the average person.
Phoebe is cautious when she first meets Sam but quickly realizes that he is not a serial killer and there are no spooky vibes. Speaking of Sam, he is one of my favourite love interests of the year. Such a cinnamon roll! I also adored Phoebe’s brother and he reminded me so much of my own brother that I couldn’t help but be charmed by him.
I could see how readers would find Phoebe annoying and frustrating but I related to her and all of the walls that she puts up, so I felt like I understood her. My only gripe is that there were too many pop culture references for my liking.
Overall, I think that Love in the Time of Serial Killers is worth trying if you go into it with the right expectations!
Still Life by Sarah Winman
Tuscany, 1944: As Allied troops advance and bombs fall around deserted villages, a young English soldier, Ulysses Temper, finds himself in the wine cellar of a deserted villa. There, he has a chance encounter with Evelyn Skinner, a middle-aged art historian who has come to Italy to salvage paintings from the ruins and recall long-forgotten memories of her own youth. In each other, Ulysses and Evelyn find a kindred spirit amongst the rubble of war-torn Italy, and set off on a course of events that will shape Ulysses’s life for the next four decades.
As Ulysses returns home to London, reimmersing himself in his crew at The Stoat and Parrot — a motley mix of pub crawlers and eccentrics — he carries his time in Italy with him. And when an unexpected inheritance brings him back to where it all began, Ulysses knows better than to tempt fate, and returns to the Tuscan hills.
With beautiful prose, extraordinary tenderness, and bursts of humor and light, Still Life is a sweeping portrait of unforgettable individuals who come together to make a family, and a richly drawn celebration of beauty and love in all its forms.
I think that Still Life has surpassed Pachinko for my favourite book of the year! I really did not think that anything could top Pachinko, but there is something about Still Life that moved me.
The “found family” trope will always be my favourite and Still Life has it in spades. This is a character-driven novel, so if you are a reader who needs a strong plot, I think it is probably best to skip this one. But, if you love to fall in love with quirky characters, this is the book for you! Sarah Winman has this special way of creating characters who crawl their way into your heart.
I do want to note that there are no quotation marks around dialogue and there are no chapters, and I understand how that could make for a frustrating reading experience! If that is something that would bother you but you are still interested in giving this book a try, I highly recommend the audiobook. Sarah Winman narrates it herself and she does an incredible job!
I was moved to tears by this book. There was something so hopeful and human about it!
The Kiss Curse by Erin Sterling
Welcome to Spooky Season!! The follow-up to Erin Sterling’s New York Times bestselling hit The Ex Hex features fan favorite Gwyn and the spine-tinglingly handsome Wells Penhallow as they battle a new band of witches and their own magical chemistry.
Gwyn Jones is perfectly happy with her life in Graves Glen. She, her mom, and her cousin have formed a new and powerful coven; she’s running a successful witchcraft shop, Something Wicked; and she’s started mentoring some of the younger witches in town. As Halloween approaches, there’s only one problem—Llewellyn “Wells” Penhallow.
Wells has come to Graves Glen to re-establish his family’s connection to the town they founded as well as to make a new life for himself after years of being the dutiful son in Wales. When he opens up a shop of his own, Penhallow’s, just across the street from Something Wicked, he quickly learns he’s gotten more than he bargained for in going up against Gwyn.
When their professional competition leads to a very personal—and very hot—kiss, both Wells and Gwyn are determined to stay away from each other, convinced the kiss was just a magical fluke. But when a mysterious new coven of witches come to town and Gwyn’s powers begin fading, she and Wells must work together to figure out just what these new witches want and how to restore Gwyn’s magic before it’s too late.
The Kiss Curse is the sequel to The Ex Hex, which is a book I haven’t read but I didn’t feel like I missed anything. That is the beauty of companion novels- they can be read as standalone!
I thought The Kiss Curse was a fun witchy romance that is perfect to read this time of year between all of the spooky books that are inevitably on your TBR. The banter is fun, it is steamier than I expected, and there is a bit of a mystery. It did feel like it was set in Stars Hallow but with witches! I could totally see this being adapted and it becoming a staple in my Halloween watching every year. It is just plain fun! I do wish that the characters had a deeper emotional connection, but I don’t think that was the author’s goal.
The Kiss Curse is a perfect one-sitting read if you are looking for romances to read in October!
Baking Bad by Kim M. Watt
A tranquil village.
A poisoned cupcake.
A murdered vicar.
A simple case – or it should be. But all clues point to the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute, and Detective Inspector Adams is about to discover there’s much more to the W.I. than bake sales and jam making.
Alice Martin, RAF Wing Commander (Ret.), and current chair of the W.I., knows the ladies of the Women’s Institute are not guilty. But she has a bigger problem. Toot Hansell has a dragonish secret, and she needs to keep the police well away from it. And she’d really rather not be arrested for murder. Again.
Meanwhile, Beaufort Scales, High Lord of the Cloverly dragons and survivor of the days of knights and dragon hunts, knows even better than Alice that the modern dragon only survives as long as no one knows they exist. But he also knows friends don’t let friends face murder inquiries alone. Beaufort fully intends to Get Involved.
This investigation is about to take on dragonish proportions.
Best put the kettle on.
A funny cozy mystery (with dragons), for anyone that likes their mysteries gentle and well-stocked with cake, tea, and friendship. And dragons, obviously.
I found Baking Bad when I was on the hunt for books that are similar to Legends and Lattes. I am all about cozy fantasy this year! Baking Bad was exactly what I needed. It is a cozy mystery but with dragons and it was just so charming. The dragons have their own perspectives and I had a smile on myself the entire time I was reading. It is everything that you would expect from a cozy mystery but that inclusion of dragons adds something more. There are currently seven books in the series and I cannot wait to be back in this world. The second book, Yule Be Sorry, is a Christmas novel, so I am saving it for December.
I’m Glad My Mom Dad by Jennette McCurdy
Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.
In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.
Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.
What can I say about I’m Glad My Mom Died that hasn’t already been said? I was not aware of Jennette McCurdy before picking this up, I missed the iCarly hype, but that in no way affected my reading experience or stop me from empathizing with McCurdy! Her story is horrifying and I don’t think the toxicity and abuse that is rampant within Hollywood, especially when it comes to child actors, is any secret, but it hits differently when you are reading a personal account. I recommend listening to the audiobook, as Jennette narrates it herself and you can hear how important it is to her to tell her story.
Princess Sun has finally come of age.
Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.
But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead.
To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.
Take the brilliance and cunning courage of Princess Leia—add in a dazzling futuristic setting where pop culture and propaganda are one and the same—and hold on tight:
This is the space opera you’ve been waiting for.
I read Unconquerable Sun for The Book Check Out Book Club and I am thrilled that this was the book that we chose because it is not one that I would have ever picked up on my own or that was even on my radar. It was a good reminder that I do love SciFi and space operas. I need to read more from Kate Elliott!
I recommend immersion reading this one if you can. Natalie Naudus is the audiobook narrator and she has quickly become one of my favourites, She has narrated books like Daughter of the Moon Goddess, She Who Became the Sun, The Heart Principle, and more! That said, I would not recommend just listening to the audiobook. There are a lot of characters to keep track of and the world-building is quite dense, so I really had to pay attention and follow along in the physical copy. I struggle to get into the story because I was simply overwhelmed with all of this information but it eventually all came together and I got into it. We are eventually introduced to a character, Persephone, who might just be one of my favourite characters of the year?
I am someone who struggles with visualizing action scenes, and we got a lot of them, so that is worth noting if you are like me!
It was the characters who won me over and the “found family” aspect that we got. I have also discovered that I do enjoy political SFF, so that aspect of the world was interesting to me.
I cannot wait for the sequel!
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches
As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don’t mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she’s used to being alone and she follows the rules…with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.
But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and…Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.
As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn’t know she was looking for…
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches is exactly the kind of fall book that I have been craving! I am embracing the cozy this year and this was perfection. It is a mix of Mary Poppins and The House in the Cerulean Sea and it just worked. I laughed, I cried, I swooned. I just loved every single second of the reading experience. There really isn’t much more I can say about it other than to tell you that it deserves all of the hype and that I cannot wait to get a physical copy for my shelves to display among my favourites.